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Boost defence spending or lose influence with Donald Trump, MPs tell Theresa May

Boost defence spending or lose influence with Donald Trump, MPs tell Theresa May
3 min read

Theresa May should boost Britain's defence spending or risk losing influence with US President Donald Trump, a cross-party committee of MPs has warned.

Ministers have pledged to continue meeting the Nato target of spending 2% of Britain's GDP on defence.

But a new report by the Defence Select Committee calls for that to be increased to 3% if the UK is to continue "fruitful defence relations" with the United States.

Mr Trump has lambasted other Nato members for failing to hit the 2% target, claiming America is "a piggy bank that everybody likes to steal from".

The committee report - which comes amid a heated Cabinet row over military spending - says the UK remains a "major contributor" to Nato.

But the MPs warn that the UK's military capabilities are being increasingly stretched, and says a lack of funding could put the UK’s influence in Washington at risk.

"The Secretary of State has said that the UK benefits to the tune of £3 billion a year from the UK-US defence relationship," the MPs say.

"This implies that both the UK Armed Forces and HM Treasury benefit from our close relationship with the US.

"However, that will continue to be true only while the UK military retains both the capacity and capability to maintain interoperability with the US military and to relieve US burdens. For this to be the case the UK Armed Forces must be funded appropriately."

The group of MPs say that defence spending would need to rise to 2.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) just "to fill the existing black holes in the equipment plan and elsewhere", and they urge ministers to go further and "significantly… improve the capacity - as well as the capability - of the UK Armed Forces".

Julian Lewis, the Conservative MP who chairs the committee, said the UK needed to send a "strong message” to “allies and adversaries alike" by upping its defence contributions.

"The Government has consistently talked about increasing the UK’s commitment to Nato after our departure from the European Union," he said.

"An increased commitment, in the face of new and intensified threats, means that further investment is essential.

"Where percentage of GDP for Defence is concerned, our mantra must be: ‘We need 3, to keep us free’. Anything less is simply rhetoric which endangers us and our allies."

The call for a fresh defence spending injection will be seen as a boost to Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, who has reportedly been piling pressure on Theresa May to agree to extra funding.

The Ministry of Defence is part-way through a review of Britain’s military capabilities, and Mr Williamson is said to be demanding that the Treasury stumps up an extra £2bn a year for the MoD over the next decade - a demand that will be harder to meet following the Prime Minister's announcement of an extra £20bn a year for the NHS.

Allies of Mr Williamson have claimed that up to 50 Tory MPs are willing to rebel against the Government if the demands for a cash boost are not met.

But senior Tories have also hit out at the perceived heavy-handed tactics from Mr Williamson, with one branding the Defence Secretary a "weasel" for threatening to bring Mrs May down over the row.

Pressed on the bust-up this week, Downing Street said: "We have the biggest defence budget in Europe and the second biggest defence budget in Nato.

"We've already committed to increasing the defence budget by at least 0.5% above inflation in every year until the end of the Parliament, we'll spend more than £179bn on equipment support between 2017 and 2027."

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